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Literature / Will of Heaven

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Will of Heaven, also known as Providence, is a 2004 mainland Chinese Speculative Fiction novel by Qian Lifang. A completed English translation with explanatory footnotes for the historical references can be found here.

218 BC: China has been united under the rule of the Qin Dynasty, ending the Warring States era. It looks like the land will finally know peace and stability for the first time in centuries.

Which, for a certain ambitious young man named Han Xin, is terrible news.

Brilliant at tactics but a destitute commoner by birth, he knows that times of peace will make it impossible for him to rise to any sort of command. But a black-robed stranger claiming to be the messenger of a god shows up, spouts prophetic words hinting at a time of chaos to come, and tries to make a deal with him. Han Xin is understandably cynical at the time.


Then the Qin Dynasty implodes in barely a decade, and China is again thrown into war, as the lords of the six states conquered by Qin first come out of hiding to destroy their former oppressor, then war amongst themselves for hegemony. Han Xin immediately enlists in the Chu army led by the Xiang family, but finds himself dismissed and belittled at every turn when he tries to offer up his abilities. Meanwhile, throughout the course of his travels, he's discovering that there may have been more to the black-robed man and his god than he'd initially thought...

Also, three words: magitech rocket launchers.

Provides examples of:

  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: Liu Bang has his issues, but he's still better about using people and (debatably) less murderous than Xiang Yu.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Han Xin is often mocked and belittled by others. In turn, he holds himself aloof from them.
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  • Ancient Conspiracy: Fuxi was actually an immortal dragon alien who crash-landed in the Bohai Sea. He created civilization and has been manipulating human development for millennia with his alien technology in order to rewrite history and allow himself to escape Earth.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Not a crowning per se, but Liu Bang breaks out the full Classical Chinese when he names Han Xin as commander of all the Han armies.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Xiang Yu, who has all the other lords cowed with his military might. This is later subverted, as his big army and prowess in battle aren't enough to save him from his lack of governance skills.
  • Badass Family: The Xiang family.
  • Ba Gua: The basis for the "game of eight palaces."
  • Big Bad: Longxi
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The true nature of the Nine Tripod Cauldrons.
  • Bittersweet Ending: As you may know from history, Han Xin dies. Ji Jiang has the knowledge to stop Longxi, but is forced to abandon Han Xin in the past to save humanity.
  • Body Double: The historical incident with Ji Xin, which Han Xin mentions in passing.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The historical incident where a guy told Han Xin to either kill him or crawl through his legs. It ends better than you might expect, but not before gaining memetic status and dooming Han Xin to a whole lot of trouble.
  • The Caligula: After he unites China, the First Emperor grows increasingly unstable with the help of the Gentleman of the East Sea. Later, Xiang Yu and Liu Bang both take levels in paranoia after they get their hands on the heart-searching mirror.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Xiang Yu nearly had Han Xin whipped for criticizing his decisions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The author turns huge swathes of Chinese history and mythology into this.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Quite a few of the rebel lords have a case of this. Later, Han Xin has no problem with deserting twice and going back on his deal with Longxi once he realizes what its true consequences are. But in the end, he backstabs one time too few to save himself.
  • Cool Crown: Han Xin designs his royal headdress himself.
  • Cool Sword: Dust-cross.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Xiang Yu crushes an army ten times the size of his own at Pengcheng. Han Xin, too, is very good at this.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Ji Jiang suspects someone wants to try this ploy after certain incidents at the palace. She's wrong.
  • Drinking Game: Liubo.
  • Drop the Hammer: Zhang Liang supposedly tried to assassinate the First Emperor with a 120-catty hammer.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Zhang Liang was historically this. Here, it's a full-blown plot point.
  • Evil Chancellor: Li Si.
  • Evil Empire: The Qin Empire, of course, but they had help.
  • Exact Words: King Huai of Chu declared that the "first to enter Guanzhong receives kingship over it." Guanzhong literally means "within the passes" in Chinese. It usually refers to the heartland of Qin, but further to the south is Bashu, which also technically lies "within the passes." After Liu Bang reaches Guanzhong before Xiang Yu, Xiang Yu wastes no time in booting him to Bashu.
  • Facial Composite Failure: What often resulted with the Qin Dynasty's wanted posters.
  • False Friend: Ji Jiang considers Zhang Liang this to Han Xin, but Han Xin accepts that Zhang Liang's foremost loyalties lie with Liu Bang.
  • Foregone Conclusion: This era is less well-known than, say, the Three Kingdoms era, but it's fairly common knowledge that Han Xin becomes Commander-in-Chief of the Han armies, conquers his way through China in three years, and is then demoted and murdered after he outlives his usefulness.
  • Forgot the Call: Han Xin completely forgets about his conversation with the Guest of Canghai until much later.
  • For Science!: Han Xin's fiddling with the "pheasant god", at the palace servants' expense.
  • Four-Star Badass: Xiang Yu, but even more so, Han Xin.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: It happens a lot in Chinese history.
  • Genre-Busting: The book has sci-fi elements, but a cast of almost exclusively historical figures, a heavy focus on mythology, a few Wuxia tropes thrown into the mix, and a nebulous higher cosmic order that may be either real or simply religious.
  • God Test: Han Xin asks the Guest of Canghai to prove his god's existence by making a river disappear. It disappears.
  • The Good Chancellor: Xiao He, although, if you know your history, he's the one who arranges Han Xin's murder in the end.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: All the historical figures are portrayed with some degree of sympathy. Perhaps Han Xin can be seen as the hero to Longxi's villain, but admittedly, Han Xin did go back on his deal with Longxi, who's just trying to get his money's worth out of humanity.
  • Heroic BSoD: After years of war, Han Xin is still unable to get his hands on any real command even after he deserts the Chu army and joins Liu Bang. When he tries to desert Liu Bang, he finds a river blocking his way, and nearly commits suicide in despair.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Han Xin eventually turns against Longxi. It doesn't fully succeed, and Longxi proceeds to engineer his downfall. Han Xin chooses to accept it peacefully rather than fight and drag more innocents down with him.
  • Higher-Tech Species: Whatever species Longxi is from qualifies as this, if not Sufficiently Advanced Alien.
  • Historical Domain Character: Pretty much the whole cast is either from history or mythology.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Han Xin, who here sacrifices himself to save civilization. The Li Yiji incident was glossed over, too.
    • Averted in the case of Xiang Yu, who's often romanticized as a tragic hero elsewhere. This portrayal doesn't shy away from his brutality and shortsightedness.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Guest of Canghai, originally Peng Zu; and Fuxi
  • Imperial China: Yup.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The heart-searching mirror, the Nine Tripods, Zhang Liang's "one hundred and twenty catty hammer", the "pheasant god", and more.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Zhang Liang spends all his family's money in his attempts to arrange the First Emperor's assassination.
  • In Vino Veritas: Happens to Han Xin after a few losing rounds of liubo. It nearly gets him executed for sedition.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Ji Jiang does this to reveal Longxi's conspiracy to the public.
  • Kingmaker Scenario: Han Xin could have been this.
  • Military Coup: By Xiang Yu. Liu Bang does this to him later on, although that's more along the lines of full-blown conquering.
  • Moral Myopia: Xiang Yu is generous enough to people he respects and indignant at the thought of using so-called dirty tricks, but he's totally fine with murdering and framing his superior commander for treason, burying enemy captives alive, massacring the entire Qin royal family, razing and looting the Qin capital, and weaseling his way out of a prior deal by his faction with Liu Bang.
  • Nasty Party: The Feast at Hong Gate.
  • Noble Fugitive: Zhang Liang, as well as many of the other ex-nobles and royals of the six states.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Ji Jiang's admiration for Han Xin doesn't stop her from telling him off about his pride, lack of cultural understanding, and personality change after he becomes king.
  • Offered the Crown: It happens to Liu Bang twice: once when Ziying surrenders, and again when his ministers petition him to become emperor.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: That time when Han Xin crawled between a guy's legs. It even made it into the history books, after all.
  • One-Man Army: Xiang Yu is famed for this.
  • Our Time Machine Is Different: The "pheasant god" is a rock-shaped alien device that runs on moonpower.
  • Parental Abandonment: Ji Jiang's father was one of the scholars buried alive by the First Emperor, and her mother ditched her when she remarried. She's understandably freaked out when the new adult figure in her life starts growing preoccupied and distant.
  • Plucky Girl: Ji Jiang, although Han Xin's fate hits her hard.
  • Puppet King: Poor King Huai of Chu.
  • Rags to Royalty: Many in this era, from Chen Sheng to Liu Bang to Han Xin, started out as commoners. Whether they hang on to their kingship for long, on the other hand...
  • Rebel Leader: The most prominent two are Xiang Yu and Liu Bang.
  • Refusal of the Call: When the Guest of Canghai introduces himself to Han Xin, the latter is understandably skeptical. Future events conspire to change his view, but in the end, he still refuses to fulfill his bargain with Fuxi and doom civilization at the cost of his life.
  • Royal "We": The First Emperor invented the first-person pronoun of emperors, zhen.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Liu Bang, Xiang Yu, and Han Xin all earned their kingships through battle.
  • Rubber-Band History: An interesting example, in that history as we know it is the version that Fuxi created through all his edits, and Han Xin fears that having it snap back would delete all of civilization.
  • Screw Destiny: At least, the will of gods.
  • Smug Snake: Song Yi.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Zhang Liang's distinctive face nearly gets him killed when he's on the run after his failed assassination attempt on the First Emperor.
  • The So-Called Coward: Han Xin has this reputation after the town bully tells him to either kill him or crawl through his legs, and he takes the second option.
  • The Strategist: Han Xin, Fan Zeng, and Zhang Liang.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: Zhong Xiu says Han Xin has surpassed Wei Liao.
  • Take Up My Sword: Wei Liao chose to teach Han Xin in a convoluted example of this. Han Xin does this more directly to Ji Jiang.
  • Time Machine: The jade-pheasant.
  • Warrior Prince: Xiang Yu fits this trope best, although Liu Bang and Han Xin count too.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Song Yi would have been happy to let Julu fall to the Qin army.
    • Xiang Yu has no love lost for either King Huai of Chu or Liu Bang.
    • Liu Bang is totally cool with grabbing all of Han Xin's best troops right before major campaigns.
  • Wise Prince: Han Xin.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Let's see... the Second Emperor Huhai, King Huai of Chu, and later Han Xin himself, not to mention a number of Liu Bang's other supporters. This trope appears a lot in Chinese history.